Archived from the week of 6/18 @ The Guilde:
"Because there’s one thing stronger than magic –- sisterhood."
-– Robin Benway
What do we mean when we talk about sisterhood? The women we embrace as sisters are often closer to us than family. These are the women who support our dreams, defend us, take care of us deeply, show up in our worst moments — but also encourage and push us to be strong, to grow, to become our best selves.
As we collected stories about sisterhood this week at The Guilde, a salient theme was the experience of being both elevated and challenged by our chosen sisters. It’s as if there’s an alchemy to sisterhood that both pulls and pushes. The pull part is related to the healthy desire we experience to win the approval and admiration of someone we deeply respect. The push part comes from the friction and dynamic tension often present in sisterhood -- the individuation dance of two deeply bonded but distinct selves.
As depth psychologist Christine Downing proffers, “There is space within sisterhood for likeness and difference, for the subtle differences that challenge and delight; there is space for disappointment-and surprise.” Here’s Toni Morrison pointing to this same dynamic, “A sister can be seen as someone who is both ourselves and very much not ourselves a special kind of double.”
In this push/pull dynamic, there is room for sameness, difference, agreement, dissonance, mystery and all manner of diversity. The environment of sisterhood is spacious and forgiving. In sisterhood, multiple dynamics, perspectives, and truths can be at play simultaneously without threatening the whole; in fact, they’re invited. You are invited. From our perspective, this is the most generous and generative kind of system.
From a Systems Theory perspective (the study of the interdependent webs that bind human beings), sisterhood is an ideal learning organization. The revolutionary Systems Scientist, Peter Senge describes a learning organization as:
"…organizations where people continually expand their capacity to create the results they truly desire, where new and expansive patterns of thinking are nurtured, where collective aspiration is set free, and where people are continually learning to see the whole together."
Senge contrasts learning organizations with the traditional thinking of 20th century organizational development that privileged the figure of the heroic leader single-handedly inspiring change and progress. He posits:
"We all have probably spent too much time thinking about ‘smart individuals.’ That’s not the kind of smartness we need. The smartness we need is collective. We need cities that work differently. We need industrial sectors that work differently. We need value change and supply change that are managed from the beginning until the end to purely produce social, ecological and economic well-being. That is the concept of intelligence we need, and it will never be achieved by a handful of smart individuals. It’s not about ‘the smartest guys in the room.’ It’s about what we can do collectively. So the intelligence that matters is collective intelligence, and that’s the concept of ‘smart’ that I think will really tell the tale."
Nowhere is sisterhood stronger than in the bonobo family, primates with whom we share 98.7% of our DNA. In the bonobo world, female alliance is everything. The bonobo leverage their female ties, especially cross-generational ties, to forage food, secure the right mate and fend off male aggressors. Remarkably, the partners in a bonobo posse cooperate with each other despite lacking familial ties or even close friendship. In addition, the nature of their sisterly bonds shifts according to circumstance, with flexibility and responsivity. This is in sharp contrast to the society of the chimpanzee, a sister species to the bonobos who share equal footing as our nearest primate kin and have as much to teach us about human evolution. The society of the chimpanzee is marked by male-dominance, feeble female ties, and a more violent and aggressive style of conflict resolution. Biological anthropologist, Frances White, observes, “We’re equally related to chimps and bonobos, and we have their entire range of behavioral variation available to us. We can be as aggressive as the chimpanzee, or as female-allied as the bonobo.”
Biological anthropologist and Darwinian feminist Dr. Amy Parish studies Bonobos to learn more about feminism. She asserts, "[t]he goal of feminism is to behave with unrelated females as though they are your sisters. It's all about the sisterhood. We can talk about how human feminism has succeeded, and the long road in front of us, but I'd say the glass is 60 percent full for humans and 99.9 percent full for bonobos."
If we look to the #metoo movement, we see an almost bonobo-like sisterhood in action. An integral part of sisterhood seems to be the felt experience of interconnectedness and mutual benefit or loss. As women and sisters we seem to know this organically, in our bones. We understand viscerally, as opposed to through our minds, that the loss of one is the loss of all.
Nature also teaches us about sisterhood. In the field of biomimicry, we look to the natural world to solve human problems. As it turns out, mother nature’s 3.8 billion years of evolution and design have yielded the most efficient, zero-waste methods for sustainable proliferation and growth. Biomimicry signals a turn away from zero-sum thinking towards the intelligence of nature, networks and ecosystems for human thriving. In fact, nature goes beyond just fixing things when problem solving; nature makes things better than they once were.
Sisterhood is one of nature’s great design success stories played out in human relationship. With its holistic values, flexible rules and inclusive parameters, sisterhood is a force to own, to feel proud of and to leverage at this unique time in human history.
If you’ve ever experienced the bonds of sisterhood in action – on a team, for a cause, in a family, with a friend group –- you know the co-creative, generative force that emerges when women align in mission, spirit and heart. It’s the lived experience of the whole being greater than the sum of our parts. It’s powerful.
There is innate intelligence in sisterhood that is essential and instructive for our collective wellbeing. The values of this effortless, organic experience we know as sisterhood contain vital information about fostering sustainable innovation, growth, and progress in an increasingly decentralized, shrinking world. Sisterhood is a natural order of human relationship and interdependence that makes us all stronger and more effective –- a leadership paradigm whose time has come. And best of all, it’s a magic we possess.
To Our Sisterhood!
Kristan & Dana